We asked a range of authors and creative types to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. More than two dozen responded. Here are picks from the prolific author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers, who recently co-wrote and co-directed (with James Ponsoldt) the movie version of his 2013 dystopian novel, The Circle.
Latest book: Heroes of the Frontier
Also known for: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Recommended reading: Over the holidays I read It Can’t Happen Here, and that was a helpful bit of fascist prophecy. But the book I’m going back to now is one a friend of mine, Flagg Taylor, edited a few years ago, called The Great Lie. The book collects essays by a wide range of writers who lived under tyranny, and the results are richly rewarding and surprisingly accessible. Taylor is a professor at Skidmore College and the book is about 800 pages, and yet it’s eminently approachable by anyone interested in seeing the parallels between our current flirtations with truthless fascism and those societies that were truly crushed by totalitarianism. Everyone you could think of is in there—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel, Hannah Arendt—and some lesser-known essayists like Aurel Kolnai and Waldemar Gurian get their due, too. The title, of course, references the sort of lie told by authoritarian governments that’s so outrageous and unbelievable that citizens feel it must be true. In our age of alternative facts, this collection is timely and deeply unsettling.
The complete series: Daniel Alarcón, Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Ana Castillo, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Michael Eric Dyson, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, William Gibson, Mohsin Hamid, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Alex Kotlowitz, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Peggy Orenstein, Wendy C. Ortiz, Darryl Pinckney, Joe Romm, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Tracy K. Smith, Ayelet Waldman, Jesmyn Ward, and Gene Luen Yang.